13 Track, LP (2010, Patsy Records)
Minimally and elegantly presented, the seventh album from ninetynine – the long running “pop” (the quote marks are used advisedly) outfit helmed by Laura MacFarlane – is a treat.
This line-up – MacFarlane and multi-instrumentalists Cameron Potts (Baseball), Meg Butler (Tarantula) and Iain Mcintyre (Les Hatchets) – has been constant since about 2007, and the album was recorded at MacFarlane’s home during 2009. While that gives the impression of a band that gets stuff done – they’ve also toured overseas a number of times – nothing moves too fast in ninetynine’s world. Having said that, the opening track, ‘Guest List Girls’, buzzes and fizzes with a gleeful, slightly manic energy. MacFarlane has a big voice hidden in that small figure, and there’s a fairly solid wall of bass-heavy synth pop to back her up, too.
In recent live shows, they’ve been happy to mix things up by swapping instruments on a song-by-song basis, and that spread is also at work here. They have a fair few to choose from, including violin, xylophone and trumpet, in addition to the more standard guitar/bass/drum combo. The result is a richer selection of textures, which gives the album an added degree of depth.
There’s a fair bit going on, mostly a great deal of beauty and coyness. Although all recognisably by the same band, no two songs sound exactly the same; different styles are hit upon, played through, and left for the challenge of the next tune. The density of ‘Broken Hands’ gives way to ‘Woods’, which marries a simple repetitive guitar with sweeps of strings. The band's willingness to play with sound and structure doesn’t let them down, despite some tunes like ‘Silo’ being just a little too loosely structured. The titles often don’t give many clues as to either the content or the intent of the songs here, and it’s left to the listener to figure out the angles. But then, what else could a song called ‘Motorcycle’ be about?
This is a rewarding listen from a band who are inexplicably still one of Melbourne’s lesser-known treasures.
by Trevor Block